Marolt: Roll out the corduroy welcome mat to Ikon pass-holders
I notched my 60th day on the slopes Sunday, a liftie told me. I am officially part of the “problem” with weekend crowds. I did the math and this is great news. It means I’ve skied a lot, but there also is no possibility of getting a 100-day pin. I am still free to ski whenever I feel like it without pressure to get out there when I don’t. That’s freedom. It’s one of the things I like best about skiing.
What is truly important, however, is that I have not been hit by another skier or a snowboarder. I have not had so much as a near miss. I have not skipped a single run because I thought it was too crowded. The longest lift line I have waited in was approximately five minutes, and the times I have done that is approximately half the DIN scale of my binding-release settings. While I have shared a table at a ski area restaurant with skiers who chose to brown-bag their lunches, it didn’t bother me a bit. Not once did I have to eat mine standing up.
I don’t get the fuss with the Ikon Pass. Sure, I’ve noticed weekends on the slopes are a little more crowded with Front Range skiers than they seem to have been in the past. But I would say that they are still about half as crowded as they were back in the ’70s when I was still carrying my own lunch to the slopes. I miss those days.
I will let you in on an old local joke. Aspen Skiing Co.’s slogan from the ’90s, “Uncrowded by design,” is not funny because it is bad English. It is funny because it was an attempt by Skico back then to make it sound like they had planned for Aspen and Snowmass to have morgue-like slopes by choice, when the truth was that skiing was dying. It was spin. A trick! It was a heck of a lot better than admitting the truth: “Come to Aspen and save us. There’s nobody here!”
Can you handle the truth? Skiing and snowboarding are still dying.
Annual snow-sport visits to North American ski resorts increased by only 6 percent from the 1978-79 ski season to the 2017-18 season. That is 6 percent total, not 6 percent per year. The annual increase is a paltry, measly, anemic, insignificant 0.16 percent.
Now, here is the kicker off the cliff with no soft landing in sight: The way ski resorts have managed to stay in business without a growing customer base is by raising prices — dramatically.
Consider this: In the same 40-year time period that participant numbers increased just 6 percent, the cost of a lift ticket in Aspen increased 831 percent.
Alta’s lift tickets went up 1,100 percent. Vail’s grew by 1,650 percent. Yay!
We all love the $1,600 season pass, $1,400 pair of skis, $25 on-mountain hamburgers … you get the idea.
Over the past 40 years, the ski industry has become the epitome of an unsustainable business model: Raising prices to make up for reduced participation, which in turn reduces participation further which leads to raising prices again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, until the inevitable day of reckoning or wreckage.
The Ikon Pass is the beginning of what is a long overdue solution to saving our sport. It is an attempt to bring skiers back to our slopes by making snow-sports more affordable. This is not a money grab by the ski industry. This is a lifeline. This is a last-ditch effort to remain viable. This is what will revive our sport and maintain skiing as a high-quality experience for us.
Contrary to what some believe, affordable skiing is not the harbinger of Armageddon to wintertime recreation. We are not headed into uncharted waters with this. We know exactly where we are trying to go. We have our sights set on getting back to the 1970s, when skiing was a vibrant and fun group project with young people flocking to the slopes.
Yes, 10- or 15-minute lift lines were common. We shared the slopes with throngs of other enthusiasts. People hooted and hollered from full lifts. Many “ski bums,” including me, brown-bagged lunches. It was awesome!
As far as I am concerned, those were the golden years of skiing. That is the time period that hooked us. The skiers who found the sport in that era are pretty much the only group that has stayed with the sport and sustained it all these decades. We need new blood. If the Ikon Pass is that transfusion, I am all for it.
Roger Marolt would like to welcome all newcomers to the sport. Besides bringing fresh excitement, beginners make him look better. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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